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Video Consultation option for all new Enquiries:. The court heard evidence from two witnesses who had seen Murphy pull the trigger and had later picked him out of an identification parade. The jury acquitted him due in part to Murphy's disruption of the line-up. Murphy's freedom was short-lived: he was re-arrested immediately for a number of escape attempts and imprisoned, then interned, for three years.
In May , Murphy was released from prison, where he had married Margaret Gillespie. During his imprisonment a daughter had been born to the couple. He spent much of his time frequenting pubs on the Shankill Road and assembling a paramilitary team that would enable him to act with some freedom at a remove from the UVF leadership Brigade Staff.
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Murphy's inner circle consisted of two people whom Dillon was unable to name for legal reasons but whom he called Murphy's "personal friends". Moore, formerly a worker in a meat-processing factory, had stolen several large knives and meat-cleavers from his old workplace, tools that would later be used in more murders. Another prominent figure was Sam McAllister, who used his physical presence to intimidate others. On 2 October , the gang raided a drinks premises in nearby Millfield. On finding that its four employees two females and two males were Catholics, Murphy shot three of them dead and ordered an accomplice to kill the fourth.
By now Murphy was using the upper floor of the Brown Bear pub, at the corner of Mountjoy Street and the Shankill Road near his home, as an occasional meeting-place for his unit. On 24—25 November , using the city's sectarian geography to identify likely targets, Murphy roamed the areas nearest the Catholic New Lodge in the hope of finding someone likely to be Catholic to abduct. Francis Crossen 34 , a Catholic man and father of two, was walking towards the city centre at approximately am when four of the Butchers, in Moore's taxi, spotted him.
As the taxi pulled alongside Crossen, Murphy jumped out and hit him with a wheel brace to disorient him. As the taxi returned to the safety of the nearby Shankill area, Crossen suffered a ferocious beating. He was subjected to a high level of violence, including a beer glass being shoved into his head. Murphy repeatedly told Crossen: "I'm going to kill you, you bastard", before the taxi stopped at an entry off Wimbledon Street. Crossen was dragged into an alleyway and Murphy, brandishing a butcher's knife , cut his throat almost through to the spine. The gang dispersed. Crossen, whose body was found the next morning by an elderly woman, was the first of three Catholics to be killed by Murphy in this "horrific and brutal manner".
A few days later, on 30 November , an internal feud led to the deaths of two members of a rival UVF company on the Shankill and to that of Archibald Waller, who had been involved in the Crossen murder. On 14 October of that year, Waller had killed Stewart Robinson in a punishment shooting that went wrong. Enraged, Murphy had the gunman, former loyalist prisoner Noel "Nogi" Shaw, brought before a kangaroo court in the Lawnbrook Club, one of his Shankill drinking dens.
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After pistol whipping Shaw, Murphy shot him in front of his whole unit of about twenty men and returned to finish his drink at the bar. John Murphy and William Moore put Shaw's body in a laundry basket, and Moore dumped it half a mile away. Murphy's other cut-throat victims were Thomas Quinn 55 and Francis Rice Both were abducted late at night, at the weekend, in the same area as Crossen.
Quinn was murdered in the Glencairn district of the Upper Shankill in the early hours of 7 February and Rice a few streets from Murphy's home at about am on 22 February , after a butcher's knife had been collected from a loyalist club. Quinn's body was not found until mid-evening, after a phone call to a Belfast newspaper, while Rice's was found about six hours after his murder. Murphy's main accomplices on both occasions were Moore and Bates, while Edwards was party to the killing of Quinn.
Another man and two women, whom Dillon did not name, were accessories to Murphy in the murder of Rice. By this time the expression "the Butchers" had appeared in media coverage of these killings, and many Catholics lived in fear of the gang. Other than that he had little information, although a lead was provided by the woman who found Rice's body. The previous night she had heard voices in the entry where the body was later found and what she thought might have been a local taxi those in Belfast being ex-London type black cabs.
This had led to William Moore's taxi being examined for evidence, as were all other Shankill taxis; however, the Butchers had cleaned the vehicle thoroughly and nothing incriminating was found. Early on 11 March , Murphy tried to kill a Catholic woman in a drive-by shooting ; arrested later that day, he was put on remand on an attempted murder charge.
He told "Mr A" that the cut-throat murders should continue in due course, partly to divert suspicion from himself. In a subsequent plea bargain , Murphy pleaded guilty to a firearms charge and was sentenced on 11 October to twelve years' imprisonment. He died a few hours later. One of Neeson's brothers, speaking in , declared: "I saw the state of my brother's body after he was butchered on the street. I said, 'That is not my brother'. Even our mother would not have recognised him". Later that year "Mr A" informed Moore, now the Butchers' de facto commander, of Murphy's orders to resume the throat-slashings.
Three more Catholic men from North Belfast were subsequently kidnapped, tortured and hacked to death in the same way as before. Moore proved himself an able deputy to Murphy, committing the throat-cuttings himself and encouraging the gang to use extreme violence on the victims beforehand. The three victims were dumped in various parts of the greater Shankill area. Two members of the Butchers approached him and, posing as policemen, forced him into a car where two of their comrades were seated. The gang, who had spent the day drinking, drove McLaverty to a disused doctor's surgery on the corner of Emerson Street and the Shankill Road where he was beaten with sticks.
He was stabbed, had his wrists slashed a number of times by Moore and McAllister, using a smallish knife, and was dumped in a back entry. Uncharacteristically, he had been left for dead by the gang but survived until early morning, when a woman heard his cries for help and called the police. In compliance with previous orders, news of the assault was given to Inspector Nesbitt.
At first he did not attribute particular significance to this message, as the Butchers had left no one alive before; but on discovering the nature of the assault and the use of a knife, he came up with an idea that was to permanently change the course of his inquiries. Taking advantage of the aftermath of a loyalist paramilitary strike and local elections, Nesbitt had the recovered McLaverty disguised and driven by police around the Shankill area on Wednesday 18 May to see if he could spot the men who had abducted or attacked him.
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Within a short time he identified McAllister and Edwards, and Nesbitt had a breakthrough that enabled him to widen his net. The next morning he initiated a large arrest operation and many of McAllister's associates, including Moore, were taken into custody. At first under intense interrogation, the suspects admitted only to their involvement in the McLaverty abduction but Nesbitt, seizing on McAllister's references to the size of a knife used on McLaverty, had his team of detectives press the case, and eventually most of the gang admitted their part in the activities of the Butchers.
Further arrests followed and the overall picture became clearer. The salient point emerging was that Murphy, the commander of the unit, was the driving force behind the cut-throat murders and other criminal activities.